Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer using chemical substances to stop the growth of cancer cells (either by killing them or stopping them from dividing). These chemical substances are referred to as “anti-cancer drugs”, “chemotherapeutic agents” or “anti-neoplastic drugs”. Often the goal of chemotherapy is not to treat the primary tumour itself, but to prevent its spread throughout the body via distant metastasis or further local invasion of the tumour.
Chemotherapy may be administered systemically or regionally. In systemic chemotherapy, the drugs are ingested (in pill form) or injected (into a vein or a muscle). Because they are then absorbed into the bloodstream, they are able to reach cancer cells throughout the body. In regional chemotherapy, the drugs are placed directly into the affected organ or body cavity (such as the peritoneal or pleural cavities). Because this permits a higher dose of the drug to be directed at the core tumour, regional chemotherapy mainly affects only the cancer cells in those areas. As a result, this type of treatment has less effect on preventing the distant spread of the tumour. In some cases, more than one anti-cancer drug is used. This is referred to as “combination chemotherapy”.
The way that chemotherapy is administered will depend on the type and the stage of the mesothelioma being treated.